Context-Embedded Learning Part VI: Transfer

This is part of the Context-Embedded Learning section of my dissertation lit review:


The transfer of skills from a learning situation to a real-world scenario is one of the goals of any educational system. Shaffer (2006) wrote that “impacts that transfer form one context to another are, in some sense, the holy grail of education, and certainly the ultimate goal in the development of educational games” (p. 157). Slator (2006) expressed this mandate by writing that “students who learn through simulations should acquire content-related concepts and skills as a consequence of playing the game, and this learning should transfer to knowledge contexts outside the game” (p. 4). In a serious game, such as biohazard, “understanding is to be performed in certain contexts” (Holland, Jenkins, and Squire, 2003, p. 38), and “games such as Escher’s World can accomplish, in a very general but very important sense, the elusive educational goal of producing worthwhile effects that transfer from one context to another” (Shaffer, in press, p. 4). Specifically, in the case of Escher’s World, “students were able to use the practices of the design studio to transfer the epistemic framework of developing and defending expressive solutions to open-ended problems from graphic design to mathematics” (Shaffer, 2004a, p. 1411). Pillay (2005) also established that skills acquired in a computer game do transfer to other similar activities, though the games and activities he studied were comparatively unsophisticated.

In any case, while this sort of transfer may be the goal of any educational game, it is important to note that a game alone is unlikely to reliably produce this effect. As Squire (2002) warned:

“playing Civilization might be a tool that can assist students in understanding social studies, but playing the game is not necessarily participating in historical, political, or geographical analysis. Therefore, building on our earlier discussion of transfer, there is very good reason to believe that students may not use their understandings developed in the game – such as the political importance of a natural resource like oil – as tools for understanding phenomena outside the game, such the economics behind The Persian Gulf War or contemporary foreign policy, even in a game as rich as Civilization III” (Squire, 2002, p. 9).

The role of the teacher in supporting the development of student understanding remains important when games are used in formal education. (The role of the teacher will be addressed in greater detail in a later section.

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.